Category Archives: wildflowers

New discoveries

We’ve kept a biological inventory of our end of Brush Mountain since we moved here in August 1971, and I can’t remember the last time we added three new species in a single day — probably not since the early 70s. Today’s haul shows the value of having additional pairs of eyes to help out; it may or may not be indicative of increasing biodiversity overall.

brown snake 2

We owe two of the finds to our neighbors, Troy and Paula Scott. While moving some old boards around the wreckage of the former McHugh house, they uncovered a brown snake, Soreria dekayi. It’s not an especially uncommon snake, but we’ve never found one on the mountain before. Given especially my older brother Steve’s sharp eyes and tendency to find anything and everything of interest when he was a kid, especially when it came to birds, insects and reptiles, I feel reasonably certain that this species hasn’t been present for too many decades.

painted turtle 1

Later in the day, driving up the road, the Scotts found this turtle in one of the tire tracks. Again, Paula’s cellphone camera helped to clinch the identification: painted turtle (Chrysemys picta). This is a very common species indeed, but not one you’d expect to find marching up the Plummer’s Hollow Boulevard, a half-mile from the nearest pond. It was only a couple hundred yards from the entrance to the hollow, so perhaps it was dispersing from a population in the Little Juniata River. The river doesn’t seem like very good painted turtle habitat, though.

painted turtle 2

One thing’s for certain: it isn’t going to find any habitat at all if it continues up the hollow. The vernal pools at the very top of the watershed, some two miles from the bottom of the hollow, persist in a wet spring just long enough to graduate a few wood frogs before they dry up.

wild coffee 1

I’m perhaps most excited by the third find of the day: wild coffee or feverwort, Triosteum perfoliatum. We’d invited an amateur botanist friend to come take a look at our three-acre deer exclosure, which is ten years old now and beginning to get really lush. We figured she might spot something we’d overlooked, and sure enough, she did. Even better luck: it was in bloom.

wild coffee 2

This was not only a new species for the mountain, but one neither Mom nor I had ever run across anywhere else. Our friend remarked that she’d associated it with a limestone substrate, and was surprised to encounter it on our acidic soil.

wild coffee 3

As the common names suggest, it has a variety of interesting cultural uses: the fruit can be dried, roasted, and ground as a coffee substitute, and the roots can deployed against fever, irregular or profuse menses, and stomach trouble caused by witchcraft, among other things. More than that, though, it’s just a very unique-looking plant, and at over four feet in height, has a real presence. I’m happy to have made its acquaintance.

A Walk up Plummer’s Hollow

I took my camera for a walk up Plummer’s Hollow Road this morning, starting at the end of the country bridge over the Little Juniata and ending just below the houses, a distance of a mile and a half. View the slideshow or browse through the photoset.

Spring wildflowers: back on track

trillium 1The perennial wildflowers and shrubs are doing fine despite the prolonged cold snap in April. On April 18th I counted hepaticas and found 149 blossoms on 60 plants at five different locations on the road bank – the only place they seem to occur in the hollow. By the 24th, the shadbush was in full bloom, though it’s not a great year for them, and purple trillium started blooming.

On the 25th, sweet white violets were blooming on Ten Springs Trail, and along the road, even more trilliums were out. Unbelievable how quickly they grow after just a few days of warmth! Long-spurred violets were also in bloom. Sarsaparilla, Solomon’s seal, Solomon’s plume, yellow mandarin, Canada mayflower, red elderberry, etc. have all fully emerged, although none are flowering yet. Round-leaved yellow violets blossomed on the old charcoal mound at the fourth pull-off. I walked farther above the road bank to see if wildflowers were spreading uphill. Solomon’s plume was. I also found a clutch of at least 20 maple-leaved viburnums. Canada mayflowers also were spreading up the mountain.

On April 28th, descending Pit Mound Trail and then following along the stream, I noticed that Solomon’s seal and yellow mandarin were expanding up-slope. At the big tulip tree stump, a bevy of round-leaved violets bloomed and mitrewort along the stream was in bud and spreading. Many small red elderberry shrubs had sprouted and among a clump of wild oats or sessile bellwort, I found the first blossom.

The following day, down near the bottom of the hollow, I noticed that the steep slope of Laurel Ridge was carpeted in the new green of Canada mayflower leaves as far as I could see, convincing me that the ground cover here would be the same as it was on our farm in central Maine back in the 60s if the deer numbers were controlled. The same would be true in the wooded side of Sapsucker Ridge because in the first side-hollow, where the woods was spared by the recent logging, even where the hurricane took out trees, Canada mayflower leaves spread. But I found none beside Greenbrier and Ten Springs trails where the forest had been so badly logged.

Other wildflowers are also spreading despite the depressing encroachment of the invasive garlic mustard. The first yellow mandarin flowered. Many wild hydrangeas were leafing out on either side of the road. I saw more maple-leaved viburnums on the bank before the dark place where, unbelievably, some hepaticas were still blooming. Surely the expansion of so many native shrubs and wildflowers in the hollow testifies to the relative success of our 15-year-old deer hunting program.

© Marcia Bonta